Made in Germany, Part 2: Test to be the best!
Top secret and incognito – we've all heard about the measures the auto industry takes to protect its prototypes. You might not have realized that the same is true for the ski industry as well. Yet before those test models can prove their mettle on snow, they first have to survive a battery of computer and lab tests. Want to know what Völkl does to its skis before they make it to the stores? Then read on…
The Computer: Designer and preliminary tester
High-tech computers, high-tech hand craftsmanship – both are true for ski models from Völkl. 3D computer aided design programs long ago opened the door to new worlds of ski construction. The computer has become more than just the space for the underlying plan, including the architecture and design of the ski. It now functions as the first tester as well. Special software tools make it possible to run simulations of stiffness and kinematics and to calculate the forces that will arise at specific spots. That data is then used by the engineers to optimize factors like torsional stiffness for all components (and the way they interact with one another).
In the lab: Testing brings insight
The test bench is another station prior to heading out to the mountain. The Völkl development department in Straubing works with numerous standardized testing configurations to review both the entire ski and the individual ski components for how they perform on specific criteria. This can mean everything from impact tests that prove the durability of the ski's top sheet to tear-out tests on the bindings and UV light exposure using sunlamp to test for color-fastness.
On snow: Serious time and effort, serious impact
Once the Völkl test team heads for the snow, the overriding objective is to optimize the skiing feel of the new models. That involves practical testing of approx. Several hundred prototype pairs each year. In other words: almost every weeks throughout the year, our testers are out on the snow somewhere in the world. That includes during summer – on glaciers and in New Zealand. Völkl sends many prototypes out each year to the other side of the globe to keep the testing process moving. It's an enormous logistical challenge that only major brand-name producers like Völkl can undertake. The reward is sophisticated ski models that leave nothing to chance.
How the on-snow testing works…
The Völkl test team is small circle of excellent skiers who are either active in competitive skiing or did so in the past. Yet the athletic component in some way pales next to their ability to understand all of the facets of a given ski, and to be able to convey those perceptions into concrete evaluations. Each tester must therefore also be a certified ski instructor of the highest level, capable of appreciating the needs of an extreme range of potential buyers – from first-time novices to pros, men like women, including alpine skiers and freeskiers.
The test team evaluates the properties of each ski based on a fixed set of criteria. Our reference points for establishing an objective standard for evaluation come primarily from the neutral industry ski testing standards used in Europe and North America. At the end of the test series, every ski is graded using an evaluation form. The ultimate goal is to produce a ski that perfectly satisfies the requirements that are placed on it. Völkl is also emphatic about using the tests to distill the typical "Völkl flavor". Each ski should represent the perfect union of top sportiness and the lightest possible handling for its segment. Variable, versatile, vivacious!
Secrets and Disguises
Secrecy can be an issue for on-snow ski testing. The team takes a number of measures to prevent details about innovations slated for the season-after-next from hitting the public (or the competition). This starts with the selection of the ski resort: in winter the testers tend to visit small, low-key resorts; in summer, when all of the manufacturers are forced to concentrate on the few glacial regions, it's time to bust out the disguises. Conspicuous innovations (like the rotating power switch knob) are taped over to shield against prying eyes. The top sheets on the prototypes never have the new design on them – they are always identical to the prior year's models. The final graphics and the finished skis are literally first brought together when serial production starts.